March 21, 2012BRISTOL—The town of Bristol held its 193rd annual Town Meeting on Saturday, March 17 beginning at 9 a.m.
With many articles prompting more than an hour of discussion at a time, there was no lack of exciting projects passed for the coming year, including the addition to the Minot- Sleeper Library and the Water and Sewer Improvement Project.
The first article discussed at the meeting was Article 10, which proposed $888,000 to build an addition to the Minot-Sleeper Library and renovate the existing building.
"We call this the hundred year project," said Vice Chair of the Trustees of the Library Nathan Haselbauer. "We are here today with a new proposal which is different in many ways — especially the cost is lower, due in part to private fundraising."
Though many voiced their disapproval with the idea of building a library in difficult economic times, there were many in support of the library addition, saying it would enhance the town, and was another building that everyone in the community could utilize.
"I think it's more than just a building for kids to read books," said community member Susan Colby. "It's a meeting place, and that addition is going to be an attraction to the town."
There was also interest in renovating and adding to the library for its historic presence in the town.
"We have lost a lot of historic buildings in the past year," said community member Susan Putnam. "If you look at all of the old pictures of the town, a lot of these buildings aren't here anymore. Now we have a chance to preserve the Minot-Sleeper Library. We need to expand. We need to restore. We need to keep the library."
After a ballot vote needing a two thirds majority to pass, of the 282 votes cast, 203 voted for the article, and 79 voted against it.
Article 11, which sought approval for the sewer project, was also grounds for discussion among Bristol residents. It was generally agreed that the project needed to be done, but community members didn't agree with ten percent of debt service on the bonds being paid for by general taxation, and the other 90 percent of the debt being paid for from user fees.
"Stop trying to segregate people out," said Bristol resident Walter Weaning. "If the town wants it, everyone needs to support it and pay for it if is going to be part of our capital improvements."
An amendment was made to pay off all of the debt through general taxation because the new piping would benefit everyone in the community, not just businesses and those with sewer access.
"I think if this is for the infrastructure of the town, that this is a community project," said Bristol resident Janet Cote.
The amendment to pay all debt through general taxation was voted down, but another amendment was proposed to split the debt equally between the taxpayers and the businesses.
"Everyone should pay for this, and it's no more than right to be fair on this," said Bristol resident Boake Morrison.
The amendment passed, and Article 11 was passed as amended.
Article 13 sparked discussion on whether a $155,000 ambulance was necessary. The article proposed that $64,000 would be taken from the Fire Department Capital Reserve Fund, $16,000 would be taken from the Ambulance Replacement Capital Reserve Fund and the remaining balance of $75,000 would be raised through general taxation.
"The intent of this article is to replace the oldest ambulance, "said Fire Chief Steve Yannuzzi. "The vehicle has done what it needs to, and has put a lot of miles on it, and it is time to replace it."
An amendment was proposed to raise the $155,000 by still taking $16,000 from the Ambulance Replacement Fund, but instead of using the Fire Department Capital Reserve Fund, $65,000 would be raised through general taxation.
"I am not in favor of not taking money out of both funds," said Yannuzzi. "It isn't right to have the money just sit there when it would cut the cost of the ambulance in half."
The amendment was voted down, and a new amendment was proposed to take $60,000 out of the Fire Department's Capital Reserve Fund and $10,000 out of the Ambulance Replacement Capital Fund, with the intent of purchasing a van-type ambulance.
"It seems to make sense, that we may not need the biggest and the best right now," said voter Janet Cote. "We could still do transports and do what we need to with a van, rather than a box type ambulance."
Those who work in emergency response strongly disagreed.
"It's not about cutting tax money, it's about patient care," said Fire Warden Chris Dolliff. "Access to the patient isn't even close to being the same in a van."
There was some concern that Bristol would be footing the bill for the ambulance, while surrounding towns would get the benefits without paying for them.
"Why are we paying for all of these other towns, and screwing ourselves in the process?" asked Morrison.
Emergency responders and those involved with the fire department explained again that a van would not allow EMT's and other emergency responders to proved adequate emergency medical attention.
"You don't have the room in a van for EMT's to do medical procedures that they may need to do to help with strenuous situations," said voter Bruce Wheeler. "Vans don't last as long, either. I have never heard of a van lasting as long as a modular."
The amendment was voted down.
Yet another amendment was proposed for the ambulance article stating that $64,000 come out of the Capital Reserve Fund, $64,000 come out of the Ambulance Replacement Fund and $18,000 come from general taxation to purchase a modular style ambulance for $98,000.
"There mini modulars are not going to be adequate for patient care," said Ben LaRush. "We need a refrigerator to keep medication and other things. You can't put this stuff in a turtle on the top of the ambulance."
Some voters expressed their frustration that individuals with no medical experience appeared to be trying to control what ambulance should be purchased.
"I think we have a very good fire and emergency service, but we also need to think economically when running the town," said Cote.
Other voters didn't think so, when the amendment was voted down. Eventually, Article 13 passed as written on the warrant.
Article 12, which asked the town to raise and appropriate $5,303,541 for general municipal operations, was a sore spot for many voters.
An amendment was proposed immediately to lower the budget to fewer than $5 million (around $4.7 million).
"All you people working for the town don't even live in Bristol, and are getting all of these hefty raises," said Morrison. "You people that work for the municipality need to stop asking for raises from us, and start paying for half of your insurance."
Many voters disagreed with Morrison, saying that town employees are never seen lounging around, and are always working hard to make the town a better place.
"I feel for everyone, I do," said Dolliff. "Bristol is not the only town going through this. What we are looking at is a level funded budget for the second or third year in a row."
The amendment was voted down, and another amendment was proposed to decrease the budget by $126,006, with the intent of cutting all raises.
"There were no raises in this year's budget," explained budget committee member Ashley Dolliff. "There were some reclassifications in this budget, but there were no raises for town employees."
Voters were also irritated that town employees pay seven percent of their benefits.
"It is irritating to me because I am one of those school employees that has to pay you to have insurance," said Patty Albert. "I wonder if the town employees are feeling that."
The amendment was voted down, only to be replaced by a new amendment to reduce the budget by $34,200 with the intention of eliminating a police cruiser.
"I think it's gotten to the point that we need to eliminate things we don't need," said Mike Bannon. "We have six cruisers and five policemen, but I don't know why we need so many cruisers. There is a difference between a want and a need, and this is a want."
This amendment also failed. A new amendment was proposed to decrease the budget by two percent, a $153,541 reduction.
"I would like to reduce the budget if we possibly could." said Mr. Goodroom. "If we could back off just a hair, that would be appreciated."
With voters looking at line items that could be cut this year to reduce the budget, the selectmen reminded everyone that there is a reason the budget bottom line fell where it did.
"We seem to be just going over it repeatedly for no rhyme or reason," said Selectman Joe Denning. "You are looking at our rhyme and reason right there on my left [the budget committee]."
This amendment was approved, and the article was approved, leaving the budget committee and selectmen to look for $153,541 worth of cuts to the budget.
Articles 15, 17 and 18 were tabled and not brought up again through the duration of the meeting, and therefore were dead at the adjournment of the meeting around 3:30 p.m.